Government to protect media from government

Another Orwellian triumph today for Aussie fascists, via the ABC:

The Federal Attorney-General has granted limited protection that could shield ABC and News Corp employees from facing charges over their reporting.

Christian Porter has instructed Commonwealth prosecutors not to charge journalists under certain sections of Australia’s complex secrecy laws without his formal approval.

Two ABC journalists and a News Corp reporter are facing possible charges after being raided by Australian Federal Police (AFP) earlier year.

Mr Porter signed the directive to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) on September 19 but the details only emerged on Monday.

“The direction means where the CDPP independently considers that there is a public interest in a prosecution for one of the relevant offences involving a journalist, the consent of the Attorney-General will also be required as a separate and additional safeguard,” Mr Porter said in a statement.

“This will allow the most detailed and cautious consideration of how an allegation of a serious offence should be balanced with our commitment to freedom of the press.”

AFP officers raided News Corp’s Annika Smethurst’s home in June, more than a year after she reported federal departments were considering giving spy agencies greater surveillance powers.

Officers raided the ABC’s Sydney headquarters the following day over a series of 2017 stories known as the Afghan Files.

The raids prompted the heads of the nation’s major media outlets to slam the Federal Government’s approach to press freedom.

The directive does not make mention of any individual cases and does not rule out the prospect of the journalists facing charges.

The Attorney-General said it would be inappropriate to comment on individual cases that could be presented to him.

“I have previously said that I would be seriously disinclined to approve prosecutions of journalists except in the most exceptional circumstances and would pay particular attention to whether a journalist was simply operating according to the generally accepted principles of public interest journalism,” Mr Porter said.

“If such a request came before me, I would, as first law officer consider the evidence, and it would be inappropriate to form a view before this time.”

News Corp executive Campbell Reid dubbed Mr Porter’s directive “unremarkable” and said it would do little to protect journalists.

“They make the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecution seek the Attorney-General’s consent to take legal action against journalists in a few more instances but they offer no comfort for journalists disclosing information in the public interest that they are safe from prosecution for doing their job,” he said.

An ABC spokesman welcomed the directive and said the public broadcaster wanted the cases against its journalists concluded.

“The Attorney-General’s directive is a welcome step,” he said.

“It is one plank in a raft of legislative reform that the ABC identified in its submissions to the two concurrent media freedom parliamentary inquiries.

“The ABC looks forward to seeing the recommendations from those inquiries as well as an expeditious conclusion to the current AFP investigation into ABC journalists.”

A Nine spokesperson said while the directive was “a step in the right direction” there were still “a number of outstanding issues which remain barriers to informing the public what they need to know”.

Labor is yet to respond.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, a proponent of a parliamentary inquiry into press freedoms launched after the raids, demanded Mr Porter rule out charges against Smethurst and the ABC’s Dan Oakes and Sam Clark.

“The Attorney-General should announce today that the three ABC and News Corp journalists will not be charged,” she said.

“What we need is legislated safeguards to guarantee the freedom of the press and whistleblower protections. These protections must be independent of the government.”

Mr Porter’s directive comes almost two months since Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton ordered the AFP to consider the importance of press freedom before investigating journalists who publish classified material.

How reassuring.

Comments

  1. Ronin8317MEMBER

    The press needs to be protected. The government needs someone to leak to when they order the Australia Federal Police goes to raid the ALP headquarter.

  2. I don’t believe it for a second. Under this Government, this likely means “we’ve added an additional safeguard to mean that leaks that we want out aren’t prosecuted and leaks that embarrass us are.” Or perhaps this stems from the the doubts around the constitutionality of the law used, or they might have found they just didn’t have a case. So they tried to think of something that they could make up to try and turn around the situation for some positive spin.

    It’s unfortunate that there’s been an overly positive response to this so far – it would be very dangerous and unwise for journalists to trust Porter and the rest of this mob any further than they could throw them.

  3. It’s truly terrifying that dictatorships and democracies are converging.

    It doesn’t seem like long before they’re indistinguishable.

    • They’ve never been all that different. What is concerning is the powers that be seem to have reached a point of not caring if a significant portion of the population realise it. Whether this is hubris or a true turning point where the opinion of the population at large truly no longer matters will determine the end result though.

  4. The protections can’t be left to the whims of an Attorney General – there needs to be better clarity and lawful protection – stipulated in law (and kept away from toxic stoics like Dutton…)

    • There will never be clarity and lawful protecion for the release and publishing of secrets. At best you get a very fuzzy definition of public interest to test against which is completely dependant on who is deciding what the public interest is.

      • You’re probably right…

        “National Interest” is like “Greater Good” – it’s slippery and vague, and can be used for crumby things, to rationalise poor wisdom, or outright wrongs, with a net “benefit” rationalised for elsewhere…